Gielczyk: Lake City Not Satisfied with Semifinal Run
Two years ago Lake City’s girls basketball team won its first district championship in about 20 years.
But the Trojans didn’t make it out of the regional, perhaps in coach Bill Tisron’s words they were content to have ended such a long drought in the districts.
Last year the Trojans led by double digits in the second half of the district final and then kind of wavered under the pressure and ended up losing.
It might have served as an eye-opener to Tisron and the Trojans, however, and filled them with a resolve that would lead to this year’s historic run to the state semifinals.
“We needed to get back to work,” Tisron agreed. “We needed to do some different things, and kind of look at ourselves in the mirror.
“The thing was we tried to use that as motivation, for myself as well that I needed to do a better job of doing a better job of getting the girls prepared, and the girls used it to work harder in the off-season.
“Starting on Day One in the summer they worked their butts off, and then all season long working toward this goal, because we didn’t want to have that same feeling to end our season this year.”
Last year the Trojans tried to be a man-to-man defensive team, Tisron said, but just struggled with it and ended up having to play a lot of zone.
But Tisron felt that if the Trojans really wanted to get to that next level, they had to be a good man-to-man defensive team, while still sprinkling in zones occasionally.
The Trojans finished second in the Highland Conference behind an experienced Manton team that started five juniors, who have all been starters since their freshman years. The Trojans lost both games to the Rangers by identical 44-41 scores.
“They made a few more plays than we did,” Tisron said of the games with the Rangers. “It was tough, because that was our first goal, winning the conference.
“Winning conference is a huge accomplishment because that’s an extended period of good basketball that you’re playing. After we lost the second one to them we knew the conference was pretty much out of question, and that was when we turned our focus to getting ready to play in the district tournament.”
After the second loss to Manton the Trojans reeled off four straight wins to end the regular season, and then clipped off seven more for a total of 11 straight to reach the Final Four for the first time in 43 years.
The last time a Lake City girls team made it to the semifinals was in 1976, when the Trojans won it all as the last team standing at the end.
It was quite a three-week run for the Trojans.
On the first day of the district tournament, senior co-captain Makayla Ardis signed her National Letter of Intent to play college basketball at Trine University.
Then in the first game of tournament play against Farwell, junior co-captain Rylie Bisballe scored her 1,000th career point, and in between the district semifinal and final Tisron’s wife gave birth to their son.
“I was back and forth from the hospital and practice,” Tisron said. “Then Friday we beat probably biggest rival McBain in the district final.
“The district run was great. We knew that was something we could accomplish. But we had bigger goals. We wanted to keep going.
“We got to win the regional in McBain’s gym, so that was kind of sweet, getting to win the trophy in their gym.”
Lake City trailed by nine halfway through the third quarter of its quarterfinal in Gaylord and really hard to bare down and make some adjustments.
But, the Trojans never gave up and rallied to tie the score going into the fourth quarter before pulling out a 50-46 win over Ishpeming Westwood.
Flint Hamady brought an end to Lake City’s amazing tournament run with a 42-33 victory in the semifinals at Calvin College.
“I can’t fault the girls’ effort one bit,” Tisron said. “They fought hard the entire 32 minutes. We were up at halftime and feeling pretty good.
“We just went through a stretch late in the third and into the fourth where went about eight minutes where we didn’t make a bucket.
“Kudos to Hamady’s defense. They were a good defensive team. They were long. We hadn’t seen length like that up here (northern Michigan). It changed our shots a little bit. We had to take different angles, and things weren’t falling for us.
“We proved that this small northern Michigan town is capable of playing with the big boys, so that was cool.”
Ardis, the only senior on the team, was a four-year starter on the varsity. More of a scorer her first three years, Ardis took a back seat this year to Riley Bisballe, the team’s junior post player.
Bisballe averaged about 17 points a game to lead the Trojans, while Ardis still contributed offensively with 13 points a game, down only slightly from the 15 she had been averaging coming into the season.
“Her assists and steals increased, all the other statistics went up,” Tisron said of Ardis. “She was always on the other team’s best perimeter player. She played absolutely amazing defense all year for us.
“She was that senior leader who wasn’t going to let this team lose. She didn’t want her career to end. In the quarterfinal game she went to the free throw line with us up two with about seven seconds left and calmly sank both free throws to ice the game away.”
Bisballe, who’s been on the varsity since her freshman year as well, took a big step forward this season after putting in a lot of work in the summer.
Although she’d been a point guard for her middle school teams, at 6-foot-2 it was clear she’d be better suited to play in the post, and Tisron increased her work load as a post player.
Extending so much of her game, being able to post up, step outside and drive to the bucket, Bisballe became a nightmare for other teams to guard because she could do so many different things.
She averaged a double-double for the year with 10 rebounds a game to go with her points.
Luckily for Tisron, he gets her back for another year.
The Trojans expect to return four starters next season, including junior Megan Hose who was up last year as a sophomore. Tisron says she played her best two games of the year in the quarterfinal and semifinal.
“She’s a little bit undersized for a post player, but she plays physical and I finally got her in these last two games to really be aggressive,” Tisron added. “She was our leading rebounder the last two games.
“She’s becoming a smarter basketball player understanding where her shots should come. She came in last year as a sophomore and she wanted to be a scorer.
“But, she’s more of that gritty glue player, that role player that can do a lot of things.”
Also expected to be back is sophomore Olivia Bellows who was up as a freshman last year and started at guard. Tisron says she’s a great shooter and super quick.
Bellows should be on pace to score 1,000 points before she’s done.
The fourth starter returning is freshman Chloe Bisballe, who started every game as the other guard. She handled the ball occasionally when Tisron took Ardis off the point.
“Chloe would always defend the other team’s point guard,” Tisron said. “For a freshman this year she was so smart. The moment never got too big.
“I never said ‘Oh, yeah. That’s a freshman out there playing.’ She looked like a senior.”
Tisron said he’ll probably bring up a couple of girls from this year’s junior varsity team, and there’s a couple eighth graders who’ll get a hard look this summer.
Lake City raised the bar this season, and winning a district title is no longer going to be the standard.
Now that they’ve had a taste of playing on the big stage, the Trojans are feeling greedy and want to do it again.
Greg Gielczyk is an award-winning sports columnist and sportwriter who worked a total 36 years — interrupted for an 18-month period from 1997-99 — at the Manistee News Advocate as sports editor until 2006 and is now retired. He currently is a freelance sportswriter for the Ludington Daily News. Gielczyk can be reached at email@example.com for story ideas.